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After evolving over a period of three millennia in relative isolation,

the Chamorro had the doubtful honour of being the first people of Oceania to
receive European callers during the early sixteenth century. The Chamorro were
the indigenous population of the Mariana Islands when Magellan first visited
Guam in 1521. It was not until 1668 however that the Jesuits and soldiery set
about converting and subduing the islanders. Several great typhoons at the end
of the 17th century were nature's footnote to the carnage. By 1710 an estimated
population of 100,000 Chamorro had been reduced to little more than 3,500. A
few Chamorro escaped to the neighbouring Caroline Islands where they kept
their identity as a people. This massive population loss had been commonly
attributed to a policy to genocide supposedly carried out by the Spanish military.
This explanation is not in keeping with the historical facts as the principle aim of
the Spanish mission was not the extermination of the Chamorro population but
rather its religious conversion.
It is more likely that high mortality rate of the late 17th century can be
attributed directly to the introduction of deadly diseases into the archipelago in
conjunction with the concentration of the scattered Chamorro population into
mission villages.
Spanish colonial period
From a European perspective, Saipan was discovered by Gonzalo Gmez de Espinosa in 1521
on board of Spanish ship Trinidad, that he commanded after the death of Ferdinand
The Spanish formally occupied the island in 1668, with the missionary expedition
of Diego Luis de San Vitores who named it San Jos. From 1670, it became a port of call for
Spanish and occasional English, Dutch and French ships as a supply station for food and
The native population shrank dramatically due to European-introduced diseases and
conflicts over land and the survivors were forcibly relocated to Guam in 1720 for better control
and assimilation. Under Spanish rule, the island was developed into ranches for raising cattle
and pigs, which were used to provision Spanish galleons on their way to Mexico.
Around 1815, many Carolinians
from Satawal settled Saipan during a period when the
Chamorros were imprisoned on Guam, which resulted in a significant loss of land and rights for
the Chamorro natives.
After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Saipan was occupied by the United States. However, it was
then sold by Spain to theGerman Empire in 1899. The island was administered by Germany as part
of German New Guinea, but during the German period, there was no attempt to develop or settle the
island, which remained under the control of its Spanish and mestizo landowners.
Japanese colonial period[edit]
In 1914, during World War I, the island was captured by the Empire of Japan, which was awarded formal
control in 1918 by the League of Nations as part of the South Pacific Mandate. Militarily and
economically, Saipan was one of the most important islands in the South Pacific Mandate and became
the center of subsequent Japanese settlement. Immigration began in the 1920s by ethnic Japanese,
Koreans, Taiwanese and Okinawans, who developed large-scale sugar plantations. The Nanyo Kohatsu
Kabushiki Kaisha built sugar refineries, and under Japanese rule, extensive infrastructure development
occurred, including the construction of port facilities, waterworks, power stations, paved roads and
schools, along with entertainment facilities and Shinto shrines. By October 1943, Saipan had a civilian
population of 29,348 Japanese settlers and 3,926 Chamorro and Caroline Islanders.
Japan considered Saipan as part of the last line of defenses for the Japanese homeland, and thus had
strongly committed to defending it. The Imperial Japanese Army and imperial Japanese
Navy garrisoned Saipan heavily from the late 1930s, building numerous coastal artillery batteries, shore
defenses, underground fortifications and an airstrip. In mid-1944, nearly 30,000 troops were based on the
The Battle of Saipan from 15 June to 9 July 1944 was one of the major campaigns of World War II.
The United States Marines and United States Army landed on the beaches of the southwestern side of
the island, and spent more than three weeks in heavy fighting to secure the island from the Japanese.
The battle cost the Americans 3,426 killed and 10,364 wounded, whereas of the estimated 30,000
Japanese defenders, only 921 were taken prisoner. Weapons and the tactics of close quarter fighting also
resulted in high civilian casualties. Some 20,000 Japanese civilians perished during the battle, including
over 1,000 who committed suicide by jumping from "Suicide Cliff" and "Banzai Cliff" rather than be taken

The local civilian population of Chamorro and Carolinian tribes largely fought on the side of the
Japanese forces.
Seabees of the U.S. Navy also landed to participate in construction projects. With the capture of
Saipan, the American military was now only 1,300 miles away from the Japanese home islands,
which placed most Japanese cities within striking distance of United States' B-29
Superfortress bombers. The loss of Saipan was a heavy blow to both the military and civilian
administration of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tj, who was forced to resign.
This history is also interpreted on Saipan at American Memorial Park and the Commonwealth of
the Northern Mariana Islands Museum of History and Culture. After the war, nearly all of the
surviving Japanese settlers were repatriated to Japan.
Post-war Saipan[edit]
After the end of World War II, Saipan became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands,
administered by the United States. The island continued to be dominated by the United States
military. Since 1978, the island has been a municipality of the Commonwealth of the Northern
Mariana Islands .
The military presence began to be replaced by tourism in the 1990s, but still
plays an important role in the local economy.